O’Melveny represents immigrants and refugees from around the world, many of whom have risked their lives to seek sanctuary in the United States. The firm handles asylum claims, represents women escaping abuse, and helps detainees reunite with their families.
Drafting ABA Family Immigration Detention Report. O’Melveny helped the American Bar Association Commission on Immigration draft a study concluding that the federal government’s use of family detention violates applicable laws and human rights norms. The report, “Family Immigration Detention: Why the Past Cannot Be Prologue,” focuses on the government’s response to the 2014 influx of Central American mothers with young children at the southwestern border of the United States. After reviewing the government’s history of family detention, the study concludes that the practice of detaining immigrant families in prison-like settings is at odds with the presumption of liberty that should apply, interferes with the families’ due process right to access legal representation, and impedes their ability to pursue legal relief based on the merits of their claims. The report urges the government and Department of Homeland Security to prepare for intermittent increases in the migration of individuals and families seeking asylum, and provides several recommendations for reform, including: 1) release families held in detention facilities; 2) adopt a policy of dealing with families seeking asylum within the community instead of through detention; 3) utilize the least restrictive means of ensuring appearance at hearings and protection of the community; 4) develop standards for families and children that do not follow a penal model; and 5) ensure access to legal information and representation at every stage of the families’ immigration proceedings.
Asylum for Salvadoran Immigrant Fleeing Gang Violence. A London-based O’Melveny team assisted Public Counsel in representing a young Salvadoran asylum seeker who had fled the violent gangs tearing apart his home country. The boy had been subject to various attempts to force him to join the gangs, followed by threats of torture and death when he refused. The government, army, and police, all allegedly riddled with corruption, are helpless to prevent the murders, extortion, and trafficking the gangs commit. It was necessary to show that the boy had been subject to past persecution and had a fear of future persecution, that this persecution was a result of his membership in a particular social group, and that the local authorities were unable or unwilling to intervene. O’Melveny helped draft a detailed brief in support of the boy’s claim, and Public Counsel represented him before US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The claim was successful, and the young boy was granted asylum in the United States.
Asylum for Imperiled Guatemalan Sisters. O’Melveny obtained asylum for two sisters from Guatemala, in a case referred by Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). Their parents came to the United States when the girls were very young, seeking to provide a better life for their family, and left the girls in Guatemala in the care of their maternal grandparents. When the girls’ grandmother died in 2014, their living situation deteriorated because their alcoholic grandfather provided no support and was often gone for days on end. The girls also started to receive anonymous calls threatening kidnapping if they did not pay a large sum of money that was well beyond their meager means. Fearing that they might be kidnapped or killed—an unfortunate possibility for children in Guatemala with little family support—they made the difficult journey to this country, together but otherwise alone. They were detained at the border. The sisters’ asylum case was a difficult one, but the legal and interpersonal skills of a Spanish-speaking O’Melveny team helped achieve a successful outcome.
U Visas and Green Cards for Mexican Family Victimized by Child Sexual Abuse. O’Melveny recently obtained green cards for four family members from Mexico, securing authorization for them to live and work in the United States permanently. O’Melveny first helped the family obtain U visas, an immigration status reserved for victims of crimes, after the parents cooperated with a police investigation into the molestation of their 5‑year-old daughter at school. In 2015, after holding their U visa status for three years, the family became eligible to apply for green cards. O’Melveny worked with the clients to prepare and submit applications for lawful permanent residency and work authorization. As a result of O’Melveny’s representation, this family will be able to continue to lawfully reside and work in the United States, along with their US-born son and brother.
DACA Status and Work Authorization for Young Man Facing Deportation. With O’Melveny’s help, a pro bono client born in El Salvador obtained renewal of his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status and work authorization. DACA, implemented by the Department of Homeland Security in 2012, instructs US Citizenship and Immigration Services to exercise favorable prosecutorial discretion and not pursue the removal of certain individuals who immigrated to the United States as children. During earlier removal proceedings, however, the client suffered from poor representation by his prior counsel, who had failed to include critical evidence of likely persecution if the client were returned to El Salvador. As a result, the immigration judge ordered his deportation. After his appeal was denied by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the client’s case wound up in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which asked O’Melveny to serve as amicus counsel. The court agreed to remand the case to the BIA based on an incomplete record and the ineffective performance of prior counsel. Despite the long odds of obtaining a second chance at an asylum application, O’Melveny was granted a new trial. In 2013, the firm also obtained approval for the client’s DACA and work authorization applications. Once the client’s DACA application was approved, O’Melveny was able to successfully move to close removal proceedings with the Immigration Court. Two years later, with the expiration date of the client’s DACA status and work authorization approaching, O’Melveny again worked with the client to prepare and submit new applications requesting to have both his DACA status and work authorization renewed. As a result of O’Melveny’s representation, this young man will be able to continue to lawfully work and reside in the United States while he attends college in California.
Asylum for Mother and Daughter Fleeing Gang Violence. A San Francisco-based O’Melveny team secured asylum for a mother and her 10-year-old daughter who fled El Salvador after gang members threatened to kill the mother for refusing to sell drugs or pay them US$100 a month. She was initially targeted because she is a well-known evangelical Christian who actively encouraged young men to leave the gang and join the church. After taking on the case in 2015, O’Melveny requested an expedited hearing because her son, who is 19, remains in El Salvador, in danger of persecution. The Immigration Court judge granted the mother and daughter asylum, and the team is currently filing a derivative application for the son to join them in the United States.
Country Conditions Research in Support of Defensive Asylum Cases. O’Melveny teams in Brussels and London have worked with Sanctuary for Families, a legal service organization that assists domestic violence victims, to prepare reports on human rights conditions in Europe and Asia to support important asylum cases.
An O’Melveny team in London prepared a country conditions report on domestic violence in Georgia to support an abuse victim’s asylum case. The firm’s research focused on attitudes toward domestic violence and female sexuality in Georgia. The team drew from a range of sources, including US Department of State country reports, reports by UN bodies, research by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and research by academics and other experts in the field. The findings were then compiled into a research memorandum, which will provide direct support for the asylum claim.
Lawyers in O’Melveny’s Brussels office are also conducting country conditions research for a defensive asylum case for a client from Pakistan. The research includes evidence of fundamentalist religious groups recruiting in Pakistani universities and schools, retaliating violently when their overtures are rejected or denounced, and the refusal or inability of police to protect people who face retaliation from these groups or from other civilians. The team is also working to identify expert country condition witnesses who Sanctuary may call on to testify in the client’s case.